What do great leaders do?
If you want to write a book on leadership, you need a formula, so we have lots of useful shortlists. Here are a few of my favorites:
Jim Collins on “Level 5” leaders:
- Develop humility
- Ask for help
- Take responsibility
- Develop discipline
- Find the right people
- Lead with passion
Zenger & Folkman on “Extraordinary” leaders:
- Personal Capability
- Focus on Results
- Interpersonal Skills
- Leading Organizational Change
Kouzes & Posner on “Exemplary” leaders:
- Model the Way
- Inspire a Shared Vision
- Challenge the Process
- Enable Others to Act
- Encourage the Heart
These are all great lists, and they point out that who we are as leaders matters a great deal.
But they don’t tell us precisely what to focus on. They don’t help us set our priorities.
Prioritizing Your Leadership Agenda
Should you focus on discipline? Hiring? Making the buses run on time? Inspiring your staff? Promoting innovative teaching techniques? Implementing PLCs or data teams?
I don’t know.
It’s probably a terrible way to sell books, so I don’t think you’ll hear this anywhere else, but I believe leadership is deeply circumstantial.
As I said in a recent article, the primary responsibility of a leader is to ensure, not merely influence.
Closing the Gaps
In every school, some of the things you’re responsible for ensuring will happen anyway. They’ll happen because other people take care of them, and because there are systems in place.
Other things will only happen if you make sure that they do—if you actively remind and hold people accountable for them.
And some things won’t be possible no matter how hard you try, because the school lacks the capacity to execute them.
So what you need to do as a leader depends on what’s left undone by the systems that are already in place.
Your job isn’t to fill in the gaps personally, but create systems that will.
So how do you identify those gaps?
A useful tool for identifying the areas most in need of leadership attention is the SWOT Matrix:
- What strengths can we build on?
- What weaknesses do we need to address ASAP?
- What opportunities can we seize?
- What threats do we need to guard against?
If you want to be a heroic leader, don’t try to do the impossible. (It’s called “the impossible” for a reason). In fact, don’t be a hero at all. Be a systems-builder.
Use the matrix above to decide what needs to end up on your agenda.
Then, build the systems that will help your staff become excellent at everything on that agenda, piece by piece.
What are the areas in which you’re finding it most critical to build the capacity of your organization?